Fanny Garman had from the first shown herself particularly well disposed towards Madeleine, and had more than once invited her to come and pay her a visit in the town. Nothing had hitherto come of the invitation, for even Madeleine, unversed as she was in the ways of society, could see that nothing more was meant than a compliment.
One Sunday, however, Madeleine was standing before the looking-glass, only partially dressed, and with her thick dark hair hanging in curls over her shoulders. Fanny happened to pass, and caught sight of her reflection by the side of Madeleine's. She stopped and noticed the contrast. The dark hair and slightly gipsy complexion of her cousin set off her own fair skin and light hair most admirably. It is true that Madeleine was taller, and her figure rather more stately, but the face itself had only very slight pretensions to beauty. Fanny closely observed the effect as she helped Madeleine to arrange her hair, and when she had finished her observations she threw her arm round Madeleine's waist, and they left the room together.
"Listen now, my dearest Madeleine," began she, arching her eyebrows.
"I am really very much annoyed with you, for never coming down to see us in the town. As a punishment, I shall take you with me this afternoon. Morten can sit on the box."
Madeleine looked into the small and delicate face, and could not help thinking how lovely it was. The large blue eyes looked so charmingly out through their lashes; the pose of the head was so elegant; while round the mouth played so many changing expressions, which seemed to rivet the attention when she was speaking.
"What are you staring at?" asked Fanny, mischievously.
"You really are too pretty," answered Madeleine, with sincerity.
"Well, that's a rustic compliment," laughed her cousin, turning colour a little, but looking still more charming.
Madeleine went down with them to the town, and stayed a few days; afterwards she paid short visits there more frequently. Fanny took her to the few amusements the town offered, and occasionally there were small réunions either in their own house, or in those of some of their acquaintances. Wherever they went the two seemed to set each other off by the wonderful contrast in their appearance, or by some coquettish similarity or difference in their toilets.
It was the rule in the Garmans' house, that any one who was staying there could do exactly as they liked. They could come or go, ride or drive, just as the fancy took them. The house was so large, and there were so many guests, and so many business acquaintances who came either to dinner or supper, that the absence of any particular person attracted but little attention. Madeleine, therefore, soon perceived that no one seemed to miss her very much if she was away. Mrs. Garman was as usual more or less peevish; and Rachel kept to herself, which Fanny maintained was because she had taken up with a new father confessor.
The Consul was the only person who seemed to care for her, and when she came back from a visit in the town, he would pat her on the head and say, "Well, my dear, I am glad to see you back again."
One day, just as she was getting into Fanny's carriage to drive down to the town, the Consul happened to pass the door.
"Are you going to run away from us again?" said he, with a friendly smile, as he passed.
Madeleine felt she had a guilty conscience, and, after much stammering and hesitation, she at last managed to ask her uncle if he did not like her to go.
"Oh no! I didn't mean that," said the Consul, as he patted her on the cheek. "I wish you always to do exactly what you like best."
As Madeleine sat in the carriage she could not help thinking that she was one of the dullest creatures on earth. How could she be so foolish as to imagine that any one in the house cared whether she were there or not? More probably she was only in the way. She could not help regretting her defective education, and a few days after, when she returned to Sandsgaard, she noticed that her uncle did not pat her on the cheek. The fact was, she did not yet quite understand her new life; everything had turned out so different to what she had expected.
When Madeleine and her friend Per had met for the last time, but few words had passed between them, but when he went down the hill towards Bratvold, she stood gazing after him till he was out of sight. She had then made a vow to keep true to him, no matter what her relations might say, and she knew well enough they would all be against her; but as she looked over the sea, she felt herself so strong and so determined, that she could not doubt her courage and her constancy to her first love.
But now, as it so turned out, her constancy was never called in question. She felt certain that a rumour of her connection with Per must have reached Sandsgaard, for she well knew that there were stories enough about her free and unrestrained life at Bratvold, and so at first she always dreaded the slightest allusion to it. She had at the same time quite made up her mind to confess openly how matters stood, and to say plainly that although he was nothing but a simple peasant and fisherman, she, Madeleine Garman, would be true to him. But in the course of conversation she could not discover even the most distant hint at her adventure; it did not even appear that anything really was known about it; her past life was, in fact, never mentioned in any way, and it seemed to be taken for granted that she could never have conducted herself otherwise than naturally became a Miss Garman. It was this very assumption that seemed to shake her in her resolution.
Everything about Fanny's pretty and artistic house was always kept in the best of order. Old mahogany and horsehair were here quite inadmissible.
The furniture, which was mostly of carved walnut, and plush, had all come from Hamburg. Portiéres hung before the doors, and the windows and the corners of the rooms were gay with jardiniéres, and vases containing flowers and choice foliage plants; while small tables and luxurious armchairs were grouped about the room. The rooms were not large, but when all the doors stood open the general effect was very pleasing, enhanced by its china, paintings, bright carpets, and gilded mirrors.
Sandsgaard, with its large and lofty rooms, where the furniture was all arranged round the walls, was so cold and stiff that Madeleine could not help feeling she must move about noiselessly, or sit demurely in a corner. At Fanny's her feelings were very different; everything seemed so inviting; and the difficulty was to choose a seat among the many comfortable arm chairs and sofas.
Morten never seemed to be perfectly at home in his own house, where his heavy form was quite out of place. Fanny took but little notice of him, and his opinion was never consulted. However, he was easy-going, and preferred to keep pretty much to himself.
Morten Garman had the reputation of being a good-natured fellow, but at the same time of not being very easy to get on with. To do business with him required the greatest circumspection; a single word might spoil everything, and if once anything upset him, it was almost impossible to get him right again. Old-fashioned people, therefore, preferred going out to Sandsgaard, and dealing with the young Consul personally; it was a slower process, but the result might be reckoned on with the greatest certainty. The young man had a habit of suddenly looking at his watch, breaking off the negotiations, getting into his carriage, and driving off to Sandsgaard or elsewhere, leaving behind him nothing but loose statements and half-concluded business.
Fanny had never troubled her husband with any demonstrative affection, and certainly never with jealousy. She understood him well enough to know that if at any time she should have occasion for his forbearance, there were quite faults enough on his side to weigh down the balance in her favour.
"There goes your admirer, Pastor Martens. Look, Madeleine, how he is eyeing us, the worthy man! He is taking off his hat.—Good morning," said Fanny, bowing, and at the same time beckoning to him to come in.
The pastor was at the other side of the narrow street, and seemed to consider a moment before he made up his mind to cross. In the mean time Fanny rang the bell and ordered chocolate. She dearly loved these morning visits, with a cup of chocolate or a glass of wine, and accordingly always kept her eye upon the street. Martens, who was the resident chaplain, was among her most frequent guests, especially since she had taken it into her head that he admired Madeleine. There was nothing remarkable that Fanny should have her attention taken up in finding a suitable parti for the chaplain. The whole congregation was, in fact, busy in the same direction; for Martens was a man of about thirty, not otherwise than prepossessing in appearance, and it was now more than a year and a half since he had lost his first wife, so that nothing could be more natural than that he should be thinking about another.
"Good morning, ladies; good morning, Miss Garman. I hope you are both well," said the chaplain, as he came into the room. "I could not resist your kind invitation, although I knew by experience that a visit to you is far too agreeable to be of very short duration."
"You are really too kind, Mr. Martens; and your complaisance to such a child of the world as I am, always causes me great astonishment," said Fanny, giving Madeleine a look.
"A great many people are astonished at it," answered the chaplain, not understanding her meaning.
"No, really! Who? who?" cried Fanny, curiously.
"Ah, you can scarcely understand," Martens began to explain, "to what an extent we poor clergymen are observed by the hundred eyes of our congregation; and the fact is, there are several most respectable old ladies who have taken offence at my frequent visits. to Sandsgaard and to yourself."
"No! How amusing! Do listen, Madeleine!" cried Fanny, beaming.
"It's all very well for you to laugh," said the chaplain, good humouredly; "but it might be very embarrassing for me, were it not that I can rely on the support of the good dean."
"So Dean Sparre and you get on now. I was under the impression that the relation——"
"Yes, at first; only just at first. But I am not ashamed to confess that the fault was on my side. You see, when I first came I took up with some of our so-called Evangelical neighbours; respectable, worthy people, too—I should be sorry to say otherwise—but still, not exactly such—such——"
"Comme il faut?" suggested Fanny.
"Well," answered he, smiling, "that was not exactly the expression I was looking for; but still, you understand what I mean."
"Perfectly!" said Fanny, laughing, as she took the cup of chocolate which Madeleine had poured out for her.
"I am sorry to say I took up a false position with regard to the dean, which led to many annoyances until I learnt to know him; then everything smoothed itself down so nicely that, if I may venture to say so, the relations between us became almost that of father and son. He is an extraordinary man," repeated the chaplain several times.
"Yes, is he not?" said Fanny. "I think he is the nicest clergyman I have ever seen; and if one did not understand a word of his sermon, it would still be most edifying only to hear him read the service. Then the charming poems he writes!"
"Yes. For my part, I consider his last poem, 'Peace and Reconciliation,' the best thing of the kind that has appeared in our literature for the last ten years. Can you imagine anything more charming than the lines—
'I sat, in silent peace of even, On humble bench before my cot'?"
"Was he poor once?" asked Madeleine, quickly.
Fanny laughed; but the chaplain explained, in a clear and good-natured way, that the poem had been written after Sparre had become dean, and that the cottage was merely a poetical way of expressing his great simplicity.
Madeleine felt that she had asked a foolish question, and went to the window and looked out into the street.
"Yes," continued the chaplain, "there is something about the dean I can never quite understand. I never can quite make up my mind exactly where it lies; but when you are face to face with him, you feel his power and superiority. I might almost say he seems to fascinate you. When he is made a bishop——"
"A bishop?" asked Fanny.
"Yes, indeed; there is no doubt that the dean will have the first bishopric that becomes vacant. I have heard it publicly mentioned."
"No, really! I should never have thought of it," said Fanny. "But you are quite right. Won't he look noble with his imposing figure and white hair, and the gold cross shining on his breast? It is a pity ours is not a cathedral town; a bishop is really so interesting. For instance, in 'Leonardo.' Madeleine, have you ever seen a bishop?"
Madeleine turned towards her with a deep blush on her face, as she stammered out, "What were you asking, Fanny?"
But Fanny's quick eye had already caught sight of Delphin, who was coming over from the other side of the street. She returned his bow, and, observing Madeleine closely, said to her, "Will you be so good as to go and get a cup for Mr. Delphin?"
"Is he coming in?" said the chaplain, looking for his hat.
"Yes. But I have not given you leave to go, Mr. Martens; we were getting on so nicely."
Delphin came in, and Fanny gave him a friendly nod, and continued, "Now, in your position as clergy-man, you really must assist us to effect Mr. Delphin's conversion."
"No necessity! no necessity, I assure you, Mrs. Garman," said Delphin, gaily. "My conversion is already about as perfect as it can be. Mr. Johnsen and I have been conversing on the subject in a most serious manner for the last half-hour."
"We were also talking on religious subjects," said Fanny.
"Have you just left Mr. Johnsen?" asked the chaplain, who had got his hat, and was on the point of taking his leave.
"I walked with him a little way on the road to Sandsgaard. It appears that he had an invitation to go there," answered Delphin.
"To-day, again!" said Fanny.
"Good morning, ladies, good morning! No, you really must allow me. I have already been here longer than I ought. Good morning, Miss Garman."
Madeleine was just coming into the room, and the chaplain took a step towards her in order to shake her hand; but, as she was carrying the tray with the cups upon it, he was obliged to content himself with giving her a warm and respectful look. As he went downstairs, he thought how unfortunate it was that Delphin should always be coming in his way.
Severin Martens was naturally very good-natured, but Delphin was a man he could not bear. If the two got into conversation, everything seemed to go wrong for the chaplain. The other had a particular way of taking up his words, turning them into ridicule, and exciting laughter among the hearers, which was most unpleasant. The chaplain did not care very much, either, for Mr. Johnsen. That apparently helpless young man had shown that he knew how to look after himself only too well. "Invited nearly every day to Sandsgaard! Hum!" muttered Martens, as he went down the street.
No sooner had Delphin taken the clergyman's place, than the conversation changed its tone.
"Our worthy chaplain did not much like Johnsen's going to Sandsgaard," said Fanny.
"That was just the reason I mentioned it," said Delphin.
"Yes, I could see that very well. You are always so dreadfully mischievous. But can you make out what is the matter with my learned sister-in-law? Rachel, who is generally as cold and unsympathetic as an iceberg, becomes all at once quite taken up with what appears to me the most unlikely person."
"Your sister-in-law always appears attracted towards any one who shows originality."
"Well," objected the lady, "I don't see much in him; at first I thought he was rather interesting. He reminded me somewhat of Brand in Ibsen's play, or something of that sort; but really, how tiresome he is, with his short, cutting remarks, which come plump into the middle of a conversation like so many stones!"
"I am a man of the people! my place is among the people!" said Delphin, imitating Johnsen's voice and manner.
Fanny laughed, and clapped her hands. Madeleine laughed too; she could not help it when Delphin said anything amusing. It is true she liked him better when he was serious, as he was when they were alone; he had then a frank, genuine manner that she found particularly attractive. She could talk to Mr. Delphin on many subjects which she would never have had the courage to mention to others. It was plain enough—that is to Fanny, though not to Madeleine—that he always paid his visits, quite accidentally, of course, whenever Madeleine was in the town.
As they sat chatting merrily on different subjects, Fanny, who always kept her eye on passers-by, suddenly cried, "Just look! there is Jacob Worse. I declare, he is passing the house without looking up but I saw him speak to some one at the door. I wonder who it could have been?" and, with a woman's curiosity, she hurried over to the window.
"Ah!" said she, laughing, "I declare it was my little Frederick he was talking to. Freddy," she cried, looking out of the window, "come up to mother, and you shall have some chocolate."
Little Christian Frederick, a white-haired, sturdy little fellow of between six and seven, came scrambling up the stairs. The maid opened the door for him, and his mother asked, as she poured him out some chocolate, "Who was it my Freddy was talking to down stairs there by the door?"
"It was the big man," answered the child, looking at the cup with eager eyes.
"The big man is Jacob Worse, and the little man is yourself, Mr. Delphin," explained Fanny, laughing. "My son's manners are not yet quite perfect. Did the big man ask who was up here with mother?"
"He asked if Aunt Rachel was in town," answered the child, putting out his hand for the cup.
Madeleine did not exactly see what the others found so amusing, but she joined in the laugh, because little Freddy was her darling.
"You are a dangerous woman," said George Delphin, as he took his leave; "I must go and warn my friend Worse."
"Yes, you dare!" cried Fanny, holding up her taper finger threateningly at him.
There was something which Madeleine could not exactly define, that she did not quite like, about Fanny, She noticed it most when they were in the society of men, but even when they were alone the same unpleasant manner would sometimes appear. She was not accustomed to all these questions, innuendoes, and allusions, which always seemed to take the same direction; but at last she became so fascinated by her lively and talkative friend, that she began to lose some of her self-possession, and a feeling of anxiety which she could not comprehend, came over her lest some fate was in store for her which she was unable to avert.
Fanny stood by the window, looking at Delphin as he left the house. He was not such a little man, after all! He had a nice figure, and his clothes fitted as if he had been melted into them. There was an air of distinction about his black moustache and curly hair. He was, in fact, a man that you would look twice at anywhere. It was wonderful she had never remarked it before!
Fanny turned to Madeleine, who was clearing the table, and observed her narrowly.
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